Markedly differing views can be found among both clinicians and researchers regarding whether alcohol withdrawal is a phenomenon of any practical or theoretical importance. Evidence has mounted that alcohol withdrawal, even in a severe form, is rarely life threatening and the great majority of cases can be managed in non-medical settings, including the home. There is also experimental data from both human and animal laboratory studies to the effect that withdrawal symptoms do not readily trigger further alcohol consumption. Against this most unpromising background a case is presented for alcohol withdrawal being but one manifestation of important biological and psychological adaptive processes which occur almost whenever alcohol is consumed with any regularity. It is proposed that understanding this more general phenomenon is critical to a better understanding of the factors which maintain heavy and problematic drinking. Recent evidence also suggests that minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms are far more common in the general population than had previously been realised and that this has important implications for prevention policy.